By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Clayton Prestridge’s career with the West Virginia Miners didn’t get off to a rousing start — his arrival in 2011 was delayed by problems with his connecting flight from Charlotte, N.C, to Charleston’s Yeager Airport.
Fortunately, things got better for Prestridge, a California native who went on to become quite a popular Beckley resident, even if it was a temporary arrangement.
Prestridge came back last Tuesday to visit the city he called home the last two summers, taking in Miners games from a different perspective — from the seats, still behind home plate, just several feet farther back than the catcher is accustomed. He will return home Saturday after enjoying an extended stay, visiting friends he made over the last two years.
“It’s awesome,” Prestridge said before West Virginia’s game with Slippery Rock on Saturday. “To be honest, the summers I spent here were the best times of my life. I made such great relationships and such good friends. I have so many memories. It’s great seeing my host family that I was so close with and some of the people I recognize. It’s good to see Tim and Doug (Epling). And my girlfriend (Brittany Gill) lives here. I met her the last two summers and we decided to be together.”
Maintaining a long-distance relationship has been a challenge, but Prestridge and Gill have made it work.
“It’s tough, but luckily for us she graduated school a couple of years ago so she was able to fly out and visit me six or seven times this past school year,” he said. “So it’s worked out nice.”
Prestridge put together arguably the most successful career of anyone who wore a Miners uniform through the organization’s first four years. He was a Prospect League all-star in 2011, and last summer was the league batting champion with a .393 batting average despite missing the first two weeks of the season — a delay that likely led to his not being chosen for the all-star game for the second straight year.
It was more than Prestridge’s bat or his ability behind the plate that helped the Miners to the 2012 Prospect League championship. He knew the game and he loved the game, and all of that seemed to rub off on everyone else.
Prestridge’s career ended with him raising the championship trophy at historic League Stadium, which was used in filming of the movie “A League of Their Own.”
“It was probably the most fun I ever had playing baseball,” Prestridge said. “We had such a good group of guys. We were all close, good friends, had good team chemistry. We all helped each other. I had a good season and they helped me out.
“To win the championship in my last year was the best thing that could have happened. I know the Eplings work hard at what they do to put a good product on the field, and it was great to bring home a championship for them.”
Prestridge closed his college career with a bang this spring, leading UC-Riverside with a .355 batting average. He had 30 runs batted in, smacked 12 doubles and was 14 of 18 on stolen base attempts. He was named to the All-Big West Conference honorable mention team.
He was hoping to play baseball again this summer, at a higher level. He wasn’t taken in the Major League first-year players draft, but planned on playing independent ball. However, an injury to his throwing shoulder has put him on the shelf.
The injury actually occurred last summer in Beckley and lingered through his season at UC-Riverside — he started all 53 games for the Highlanders.
“I got an MRI last week and I will get the results next week,” said Prestridge, who still was able to throw out the first pitch at Saturday’s game. “If I need surgery, I might get surgery. Hopefully not. Hopefully I can just rehab it (before next summer). I have some rehab stuff I can do, so hopefully that will fix it.”
Prestridge became a Miner when John Spirk mentioned his name when the team needed a catcher. The two were teammates at Golden West Community College before Prestridge went to UC-Riverside and Spirk to San Diego State.
It was the start of a chapter in Prestridge’s life that he will never forget.
“It was the biggest blessing I have ever had,” he said. “Like I said, this has truly been the best times of my life. I never thought I would have this much fun playing summer ball. This whole atmosphere and the program that everyone puts on and the Eplings do such a good job. It’s one of the best places to play in the country, in my opinion.”
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